Sunday, May 13, 2012

Better Bribes for Better Behavior

Potty Training is without question one of the most frustrating challenges in parenting. No parent will argue this.  Case in point: My son has been urinating in the toilet for over a year but still refuses to poop in it.  I’ve been told to try a vast variety of ideas and strategies to get him to do so, all of which involve some kind of bribe. Now I never wanted to be the type of parent that relied on that technique, but with the stresses I’ve faced over the past few months I have resorted to it.  The issue with that is WHAT you use to bribe them with.  This is where my problem lies.

I am NOT the type of parent who buys my child some random toy every time he does something right.  Do I buy him things for no reason? Yes. Every parent does. The things I buy are stuff like: A magnifying glass, a bug catcher, a tag book (to encourage him reading) or some other kind of educational toy. His dad’s family buys him all the toys he’ll ever want. So I don’t need to add to it by using toys as poopy prizes. 

Another common bribe is candy. I’m equally opposed to this. Candy is horrible for you and its only ‘good’ quality is its taste. I am not a big candy person—and in fact I hate chocolate. I cannot understand rewarding a child with something that isn’t good for them and establishing junk food as an incentive (thus planting the seed for all kinds of eating and health issues). Unfortunately you can’t use healthy foods as a reward since you want your children eating them as much as humanly possible!!

So what, oh what, do you use as incentive for good behavior, potty training and the like?   
Unique experiences.  I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again, ‘things’ will never compare to ‘adventures.’  A child can go on for a day or a week about some awesome toy they got, but they’ll go on forever about the adventure they had at the aquarium and all the things they saw and did there. 

April was particularly stressful. My son was all over the map with his behavior—spending a good portion of his time in time outs and going to bed early. And we made a deal. If he straightened his act up and didn’t get any more bad reports from daycare until the end of the month we would go to the zoo.  Now every time he picks up one of his animal toys he goes on and on about seeing it at the zoo, what he saw it do, how he wants to see it again… and so on. 

So I figured, why not try that with Potty training?  After a long discussion with a cousin who specializes in rearing children we decided on a potty bank. My son gets a coin every time he goes potty, two if he goes on his own (without my asking him to), and FIVE if he poops (even just a little) in the toilet.  I sat him down and we discussed what HE wanted his prize to be. On the table were things like: going to another BIGGER zoo, the aquarium, going to a circus, (Yes, a toy was an option--it was the first HE threw out) and going to the Dinosaur museum. He picked the last one. We took a Simply Lemonade jug, decorated it with dinosaur stickers and every time he goes we discuss all the things we’ll see and do there—amping him up for going.
And all the money in that Potty Bank? Yup, he gets to spend it at the gift shop.  
SO he gets the experience AND a souvenir of it.  He's pretty stoked... as am I.

The first few days were great… then he got sick and we’ve been bouncing between constipation and diarrhea, but I’m still confident this will work (otherwise this might be my last post since I’ll lose my mind and get locked up in the looney bin!) 

But the point of this post is: As parents our job is to shape and mold our children into competent, well rounded, GOOD people. Rewarding them with objects of little or no permanent significance only feeds into our overly commercial, uber-consuming society. It feeds back into that unhealthy, destructive cycle. Why do that when you can reward personal growth and milestones by adding to their character, knowledge base or skill set? These milestones aren't just steps in development and physical growth, they're markers of personal growth and evolution--celebrate that by ADDING to it!!

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